Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

“Potential for miracles, catastrophe, and everyday amazement”: An Interview with Sarah Heying

Sarah Heying has fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in Broken Pencil, The Chariton Review, Ellipsis, Kestrel, and online at Bitch. She is currently working toward her PhD at the University of Mississippi. Heying’s new story, “The Chair Kickers’ Tale,” received the Robert Watson Literary Prize and appears in the Greensboro Review 105.

Rose Himber Howse: Your story begins with a fable of sorts, which (along with the title and your use of archaic syntax in certain moments) sets up the expectation that we are reading a fairy tale. I loved the juxtaposition of that mood with the dialogue, which is hyper-realist and modern, and the general content, which I’d describe, probably badly, as being mostly concerned with delineating the minutiae of manual labor and of generally getting by in the world. The fact that I found this contrast so jarring led me to interrogate my own assumptions about which spheres I associate with the possibility of wonder and which I don’t, which was uncomfortable in a productive way. What relationship do these two supposed opposites—the magical and the mundane—have for you?

Sarah Heying: I think you described it perfectly. I recently read this fantastic book, The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh. In it, he talks about how the word “improbable” is not the opposite of “probable,” but instead an inflection upon it. He argues that the modern novel sought to distinguish itself from literature of the fantastical or unbelievable by hiding exceptional moments under fillers of specific detail—sort of this representational scene-building that rationalizes the world to a place of few surprises.

Many of us grow up reading literature full of surprises, but then we’re encouraged to “grow out of it” in favor of more serious, realistic literature that’s supposedly more representative of the way we supposedly live. But life constantly surprises me, scares me, awes me, confuses me, and then I write a story to try to understand that sense my wonder a bit better, and I try to do so without rationalizing it into a manageable box of certainty. Storytelling, for me, is not a purely representational art. It’s an exploratory art full of potential for miracles, catastrophe, and everyday amazement.

RHH: “The Chair Kickers’ Tale” doesn’t really have any women in it, which I didn’t question at all on first read. Statistically, it seems accurate in a story about five people who do tough physical labor and one big boss. But in chatting with you during your acceptance phone call, you mentioned that you actually worked as a Chair Kicker in a coliseum. Given that you experienced this as a woman, I’m curious how you ended up with the model for the story that you did: a portrayal of male brotherhood that feels so evocative in how it encompasses both crassness and tenderness.

SH: When I stepped into that job at the Coliseum, I was immediately and frequently reminded that I had entered a men’s space and that hiring me was a bit of an experiment. During my first month, one of my main duties was to check all of the mouse traps and dispose of their little dead bodies because they thought that job needed “a woman’s attention to detail.” Then they started letting me put up the pipe and drape and apply the linens and table skirts, and then, after at least a month, they let me start setting up chairs and building stages, basketball floors, etc. While I was working there I also took a part time job selling beauty products, so I had to switch between these two extremely gendered spheres on a daily basis. It was a very formative to my own gender identity as a lil’ baby butch lesbian to feel both a part of and apart from both of these spaces.

I actually started the first draft of this story while I was still working at the Coliseum, and from the beginning, it didn’t include any women. Though many of the original characters I wrote didn’t make the final cut, Benny was always there as sort of an outsider figure. I feared that if I had made Benny a woman—even a butch lesbian woman—it would be too easy to read his outsider status as some kind of essentialized gender difference rather than as a difference in expression of masculinity.

RHH: We all believe we’d never sell out our friends for money and perks, and yet when most of us are put to the test—well, the world we’re living in is a pretty clear indication of what can happen. I think political fiction is totally vital and also teeming with potential missteps: the possibility for being didactic, condescending, etc. These are all pitfalls that we thought you avoided gracefully in the story, which despite its literal simplicity arcs toward a real moral complexity. Do you conceptualize your work as political? What are the consequences of doing so?

SH: Well thank you for the compliment! This story became more political as I continued to work with it because I’ve become less and less hesitant about directly addressing structures of power (state and otherwise) that attempt to govern every single aspect of our lives. I don’t think it’s possible to write literature that isn’t political—some politics are just less visible because they’re more readily accepted as facts of life. While I’m of the belief that the best literature embraces nuance, I also feel that it’s dangerous to try to hide from the forces and institutions that attempt to beat the nuance out of us.

RHH: One of my former professors loved to talk about the imitative fallacy, and I think you avoid it expertly here, in that the story delineates monotony without being monotonous. You also eschew the opposite extreme, romanticizing physical labor. I think your innovative use of the first person collective is key here, and for me as a reader, the most effective part of this point of view choice is, paradoxically, when the story abandons it. Phil’s trip to the boss’s office represents a fragmentation that’s sad and inevitable, and when the collective voice resumes, it’s forever fractured. Is this aligned with what your intentions were for the point of view? And I also wonder how you think the present tense, which tends to get a bad rap, factors in here.

SH: Oh Lord, I feel so thankful for everyone who suffered through and offered feedback on my bloated, monotonous early drafts. It took me a really, really long time to develop this first person plural to where it is now. It’s such a demanding POV that can quickly grow tiresome for readers, and in many of my earlier drafts it was much more of a “royal we” than a true collective voice. But it was so important to me to get it as close to right as possible to convey the double-edged sword of collectivity—the way a “we” can be inclusive and empowering, or, just as easily, exclusive and controlling. And the present tense seemed like the only way to write this story about people who are boxed into a particular moment that feels immediate yet also repetitive. I imagine most of these guys as breaking from the collective-present at the end of the work day when they leave the Coliseum behind, but jumping right back into it at the start of a new shift. If I’d narrated in past tense, I’d have taken the crew out of the self-enclosed loop that’s so fundamental to the setting and the story. When Phil breaks from this loop for a moment, the “we” fractures, but it doesn’t crumble—it corrects itself and jumps back into rhythm, leaving Phil behind. My hope is that it’s not clear to readers whether this is a good or a bad thing.

 

Rose Himber Howse is a recent graduate of the MFA program in fiction at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she served as fiction editor of The Greensboro Review. Her first published work of fiction is forthcoming from Sonora Review. Before graduate school, she taught reading to teenagers and adults.

Interview with Richard Moriarty, Fiction Editor

Richard Moriarty just finished his second year in the MFA program at UNC Greensboro. He’s originally from Kansas City. He went to University of Miami (the Florida one) for undergrad, where he studied advertising. He’s working on a collection of stories tentatively titled River Runners. Books currently on his nightstand: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and Run the Red Lights by Ed Skoog.

Evan Fackler: You’re a wizard at the compact ten-page story, and yet we’ve chatted before about your admiration for The Art of Fielding, a novel that does for baseball what Moby Dick did for whaling. Do you have any interest in writing—I’m not going to say a “novel” but let’s just say, “a longer work of fictional prose narrative”?

Richard Moriarty: Haha, I appreciate that! I have to admit, though, I’ve gotten a little self-conscious about my difficulties with writing anything longer than ten pages. But it may just be that the stories I’ve been working on are better suited for the shorter form. I loved The Art of Fielding, and I think I read it at just the right time, a time when I was still very much obsessed with baseball and just starting to get interested in writing fiction of my own. It’s a great novel, but yeah, I don’t know if I would recommend it to someone who doesn’t already watch and admire baseball.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine myself writing a novel. While Chad Harbach’s book got me really thinking about trying to write, I didn’t actually start doing the thing writers must do—making writing part of their daily routine—until I fell in love with short stories. I loved how funny Lorrie Moore’s stories were, how weird George Saunders’s were, how Elizabeth McCracken’s stories could offer all the complexities that I expected from novels. Maybe my approach will change as I develop as a writer, but for now I’m solely focused on writing short stories as well as I can.

EF: What are some of the most frustrating correspondences you’ve handled for the GR? I mean, things writers submitting to magazines or corresponding with editors should avoid doing?

RM: I think we were really lucky over the past year to work with writers who weren’t just excellent short story writers but also great people to embark on the editorial process with. I’m sure I tested multiple authors’ patience with all sorts of requests: delete a comma here and add an em dash there, cut a well-written description of setting because of a repetition, write a new sentence that adds greater clarity about a character’s past. The only thing that irritated me was when an author would overlook or misinterpret a step in the back-and-forth communication of the editorial process. It’s a lengthy affair and sometimes a complex one—with multiple rounds of editorial suggestions for a given story after we’ve accepted it—so it’s understandable for an author to miss one component of it. All this is to say that every journal’s process is different and it’s important to keep that in mind when working with editors on your story.

EF: Every semester GR editors put out a call for volunteers for something called “Bartlebying.” What the heck is that?

RM: Good ol’ proofreading! We partner up and read each story out loud to one another, many times over. After three or four hours of this, my mind is pretty much useless and it’s time for lunch and/or a nap. That said, I’ve found Bartlebying to be very useful for us. I’m always surprised at how many copy-editing changes come to light during this process.

EF: Do you have any absolute favorite stories you’ve gotten to publish?

RM: Dang, that’s a tough question. We accepted nine stories over the past year and I really do love each one. Some things that jump out at me as I look back are: the way Nick Brown’s “A Fundraiser” reveals another quirky detail each time I re-read it; the intricacies of character in Sharon Solwitz’s “Violation”; Sarah Heying’s risk-taking in “The Chair Kickers’ Tale” with regards to voice and narrative structure.

EF: FAQ – Is The Greensboro Review only for previously published writers?

RM: One of my main goals as an editor is to look beyond the author’s experience level and solely evaluate the quality of the story in front of me. We’ve published debut fiction as well as work from past contributors to Best American Short Stories. I think that’s something really cool about the short story—every single submission presents something new and has the chance to surprise us, delight us, or haunt us for weeks after reading it.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli

Interview with Michael Pittard, Poetry Editor

Michael Pittard is a second-year MFA student at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His poems and reviews have appeared in such publications as Tupelo Quarterly and Red Flag Poetry. He lives in Greensboro with his cat, Roosevelt.

“‘Now the one thing you have to promise, Rudy, is that you never joke about this. Flying saucers are like religion. You’ve got to be solemn.’” 

Evan Fackler: That’s from Thomas Disch’s “The Abduction of Bunny Steiner, or, A Shameless Lie,” a story about a writer cajoled into penning a fallacious UFO memoir that takes on a reality of its own. You’re an aficionado of alien abduction stories yourself—a curiosity you explore in your poetry. What’s the fascination there for you?

Michael Pittard: I’ve always been fascinated by the stories people tell themselves. People who think they have been abducted by aliens, people who believe in Bigfoot, people who think the world is flat; they all are trying to process information or events the best way they know how. My fascination comes from my desire to understand why these stories mean so much to them, why believing them and then being ostracized for that belief is worth it. In my poetry about aliens (or Bigfoot, or Flat Earth), I hope to open up space in a genre that sometimes tries to keep itself aloof and above “low-brow” culture for poems about topics that people didn’t know poetry is able to tackle. Plus, that tiniest possibility that it’s all true, that aliens exist, is impossible to resist. We all want the wildest stories to be real, so I hope to make them a little more real anyway I can.

EF: You’ve been thanked by writers on Twitter before for calling them to let them know their work has been accepted at The Greensboro Review. Mostly, of course, we’re used to receiving acceptances and rejections through email, our phone lines being primarily reserved for grandparents and scammers. Are people usually surprised to be talking to an editor on the phone in the middle of the day?

MP: People usually are! We don’t only reach out to people over the phone; it depends on the information they provide us and whether we think calling them over the phone will be the best way to reach them. But by even considering calling them separates The Greensboro Review from other journals. We do a mix of old and new here; we still take mailed submissions even though the bulk of what we read comes in through Submittable. It’s always great to talk to somebody where they can hear the inflections of your voice. It helps the editing process start off on the right foot. We all, as editors and poets, want what’s best for the poem, and establishing that trust is crucial in achieving that goal.

EF: You make it a point to visit used bookstores wherever you are. Any hidden gems out there book tourists should know about?

MP: Oh there are so many good used bookstores everywhere. Books wind up on those shelves that even the owners forget they have. I once visited the grave of the Venerable Bede in Durham, England. Bede, an 8th century monk, is considered to be the father of English history, and in a 3-story used book store in Durham (where the aisles were as narrow as possible) I found an old copy of Bede’s An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and when I bought it the owner was astounded I had found it. As for stores in the US, I love McKay’s in Greensboro, which I have been visiting ever since I could read. I also discovered Bridge Street Books in DC, which has an amazing literary criticism and poetry section on its second floor.

EF: FAQ – To paraphrase Edwin Starr: 

Cover letters, huh, yeah, 

what are they good for?

Do you have any advice for those of us on the other side of the submission process who are maybe unsure of what our cover letters should be doing or saying?

MP: Cover letters are always hard to nail down, because the temptation is there to explain your work or justify it somehow. I’m not entirely against all attempts to make sure we as editors understand the context of your poems, but the more explanation you give, the more expectations I have of the work. And by expectations, I don’t mean higher standards, I just mean that I know something about the poems I didn’t know before, and it changes how I read them. I like it best when authors tell me the number of poems they are submitting, the titles, and a brief (like one sentence) description of the project, if there is one. But writers should trust their work to stand on its own! It usually does.

EF: Last question. 2018 was a weird year for poetry. On the one hand—and you’ve responded to this before—there’s been some noise that Instagram “saved” poetry (from what, it’s unclear). On the other hand, we’ve seen a lot more high-profile controversy swirling around the poetry community (events at The Nation early last Fall, for instance, or some fairly high profile discussions around plagiarism in “After” poems more recently). Putting aside any specific cases, why do you think poetry has become a locus for these discussions? What’s ahead for the poetry world in 2019?

MP: 2018 was definitely a weird year for poetry. I think I saw more articles stating that poetry is flourishing now more than ever, but the only justification for that headline was the increase in total book sales, not in the number of distinct books or poets. Still, an increase in book sales is always promising! We don’t have to save poetry from obscurity. People will always read poetry, but it is important that we direct people to new types and voices in poetry whenever we can. Even when someone recommends reading “classic poetry,” we do so to make sure the new poetry reader has the context to read what contemporary poets are reacting to or against. And we can’t be disdainful of where people start their poetry journey, or even of where they end it. Any poem has the potential to change someone’s life, even if it’s the only poem they ever read. It doesn’t matter if it’s “Instagram poetry” or John Ashbery.

As for why poetry becomes a locus for these discussions, I believe it’s because poetry is seen as both simple and complex at the same time. Poems are typically short, which means we’re supposed to get them much sooner than a novel. But schools also teach students that poems are also speaking in code to a different audience, and you won’t ever understand poems until you understand that code. It’s all hogwash, but it’s hogwash that plays on the poet’s desire to always be saying something important and deadly serious. Poetry as code is incredibly anti-egalitarian and elitist. Trust your first emotional response to a poem! But that desire to be meaningful gets in the way of letting other people speak too, which is a problem many areas of public life experience. Giving more people the chance to speak isn’t taking away your own right to speak. It just means you have to actually listen to them! I hope that this year in poetry is when poets and critics start to realize that more people writing all types of poetry is a great thing that portends an amazing future for the genre.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli

Interview with Rose Himber Howse, Fiction Editor

Rose Himber Howse is a current MFA candidate in fiction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her nonfiction and interviews have been featured on Dead Darlings, GrubStreet Boston’s site for novelists. She is currently at work on her first novel, The Stones They Broke, a queer Appalachian story. Before pursuing her MFA, she taught high school English and adult literacy.

Evan Fackler: Rose, you’re one of two fiction editors at The Greensboro Review. Do you and Richard [Moriarty, the other editor] usually agree on which stories to publish? 

Rose Himber Howse: Generally, yes. Looking at our respective styles as writers, you wouldn’t expect there to be as much overlap in our preferences as there is, and I like to think that’s testament to our general open-mindedness when it comes to a story’s right to dictate its own terms.

We can sometimes be attracted to different things when we’re reading the slush pile, but in these situations, we often make a pretty effective case to the other person for a story that they might have overlooked. It’s funny, actually–occasionally one of us will be championing a story the other has doubts about, and the next day the roles will reverse because we’ve done such a good job convincing each other.

Ultimately, stories with a strong voice tend to stand out for both of us. He’s more of a minimalist, which tends to be a good editorial predilection, and he always appreciates sharp dialogue whereas I can have a tin ear. I’m probably pickier about surprise–I hate when I can predict the next thing that will happen in a story.

EF: When you’re reading through fiction submissions, are there particular things you’re looking for? Specific characteristics or strengths you want to see in a piece for The Greensboro Review?

RHH: People always say that you should read a journal before submitting to get a feel for its style. And while I certainly hope submitters will read The Greensboro Review, I think that the beauty of a journal run by MFA students is that the editors change regularly, which means that personal preferences don’t limit the aesthetic of the journal.

The most obvious form that this sort of bias can take relates to a journal’s orientation toward experimental work, and I can confidently say that The Greensboro Review doesn’t come down on either side of this. If psychological realism and a traditional plot structure aren’t the best way to tell a story, that’s great; if they are, that’s fine too.

Our editorial process is intensive and collaborative. Having conversations with writers about how to edit in service of their vision is my favorite part of the job. Because we do subscribe to this particular process, we’re more willing than some magazines to take a story that might be imperfect yet more memorable and unique than a different, “cleaner” story. When I’m at home chopping onions or something and I find myself still thinking about a character, that’s usually a very strong indicator that I’m going to advocate for that submission.

EF: If you could give some blanket advice to writers based on your experience on the editorial side of things, what would that advice be?

RHH: Put a story in your story! It sounds really obvious, I know. But the most common reason I stop reading is that the opening feels bloated with exposition. That doesn’t mean that the first page needs a high-speed car chase–just that it needs to establish momentum for the story in the present. While it can be realistic for a character to have had a wounding event earlier in life that informs the present action, I’d rather learn about this through its impact on the present than through a frontloading of summary.

Every now and then, there’s a story with a compelling premise, but language that doesn’t excite or invigorate; however, the inverse is much more common: sentences that are stronger individually than the narrative that they make up.

Not that we’re looking for stories that read like action movies.  One of my favorite pieces in the last issue, “The Stone Lawn,” is about the interaction between an elderly man and his neighbor over lawn maintenance. It’s very quiet and very interior, and it does make use of flashback. But there’s an incredibly strong sense of underlying tension, and so it really moves.

EF: FAQ: Should I send my erotica to The Greensboro Review

RHH: Probably not. But never say never? Sex and sensuality are great if they’re in service of a narrative arc. Just please, if you are a man and your protagonist is a woman, don’t have her describe herself the way a catcaller might describe her (i.e.: “I looked down at my bodacious rack”). This has been weirdly common lately!

EF: Last question: let’s say you’re trapped on a desert island by Sycorax, Caliban’s bad-ass witch mother, and the only way off is through a literary barter. What novel or short story collection would you entice Sycorax with in exchange for safe passage off the island?

RHH: This won’t be news to anyone, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. While I think that magical writing doesn’t necessarily need to have a purpose beyond magic itself (for me, enchantment is enough of a reason to read) her collection really taught me how fabulism can be used to delineate emotional truths. I’m thinking in particular of the story “Real Women Have Bodies,” in which women are becoming invisible and nobody cares. It’s almost too obvious, but there’s nothing obvious about the artistry with which it’s executed.

So much of both the horror and the beauty in the collection are inextricable from Machado’s exploration of what it means to be a woman–often a queer woman–in the world. And I’m amazed at the book’s ability to hold those two forces (horror and beauty) in the same hand, acknowledging that they feed each other as much they negate each other. I think Sycorax would agree.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli

Interview with Jabar Boykin, Poetry Editor

Jabar Boykin is from Greensboro, NC and is currently getting his MFA in poetry at UNCG. His poetry primarily centers around his Black American heritage of which he seeks to create new narratives and mythologies from past tragedies and traditions. After earning an MFA in Poetry, Boykin intends to pursue a PhD in African American Literature. He is a current poetry editor for The Greensboro Review.

Evan Fackler: By all accounts you maintain a pretty busy work schedule, working multiple jobs while you’ve been in school. Where do you find the energy and time for your own poetry? 

Jabar Boykin: I actually write mostly during the time I should be sleeping, so like around 1-2 am, but this is also the time I feel like I do my best writing. I tend to get distracted during the day really easily so it’s hard for me to focus on coming up with ideas I think are creative enough to turn into poems.

EF: Has your editorial work at The Greensboro Review informed anything about your own writing or writing process?

JB: It has made me take a second look at my own poetry. When editing, it’s so nice to have a clean poem that doesn’t need any work or at least needs as little work as possible, so it’s most definitely made me go back and tidy up poems that I now understand to be a little messy for publications.

EF: Poetry and fiction submissions to The Greensboro Review have to make it past two editors in each genre, plus Terry Kennedy and Jessie Van Rheenen. Is everyone typically in agreement about what to publish? How much back-and-forth discussion do you have over the typical acceptance? 

JB: For Michael and I there hasn’t been too much disagreement, and the few occasions that there have been we usually let Terry act as the tiebreaker. However, there are moments where maybe we’ve had biases toward a poem for whatever reason and in that final process when we meet with Terry and break the poem down line by line we’ll usually see things in discussion that we didn’t see before when we were just sitting at our desk reading. It’s really interesting what you miss and what everyone else is seeing that you’ve not paid attention to. I think moments like that also sharpen your awareness of your own poetry as well.

EF: You’re mentioned under the Wikipedia entry for the pantoum: “Jabar Boykin wrote a well-received pantoum,” the entry reads, with no citation. Have you written a well-received pantoum?

JB: The story behind that is actually pretty funny; we were assigned, in our Structure of Verse class last semester, to write a pantoum so I decided to just revise one that I was already working on for my thesis. Long story short, Stuart ended up really enjoying it and also mentioned that he had written this very famous pantoum that he’d received a lot of accolades for, so the rest of the class, unknown to me at the time, decided to write in Wikipedia that I had written a “well-received pantoum” as well. When I found out it was hilarious to me because my work has never been published, but I also felt really honored at the same time that they would do that.

EF: FAQ – Is The Greensboro Review interested in publishing a particular kind of poet? 

JB: I can’t speak to past editors that have come before me but I don’t feel there’s anything in particular that Terry, Michael, or I look for other than for the poem to be skillful, thoughtful, and engaging. Me personally, I like poems that take a lot of risk; that feeling you get when you’re reading a poem and it seems that it could all fall apart at any moment, but then you’re at the end and somehow all the elements managed to hold together is priceless. Those are the poems I like the most.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli

Interview with Emily Morris, Managing Editor

Emily Morris won Honorable Mention in the 2018 NC State Fiction Contest and has work forthcoming in Reservoir Journal. Originally from Charlottesville, VA, Morris is currently at work on a short story collection focusing on issues of family and class in rural Southern America. She is the 2018-2019 managing editor of The Greensboro Review.

Evan Fackler: Emily, you’re the managing editor of The Greensboro Review. What’s an average day-in-the-life of a managing editor like? What is it that a managing editor does?

Emily Morris: The majority of my role here is to attend to production. I also format the poems and stories, convert them into our house style, and, once the order is decided, format the issue and prepare it for print. A “day in the life” changes according to where we are on the production schedule, which is something I appreciate—I’m not stuck doing one task for too long. We all kind of change pace as the stories and poems roll closer to our print deadline. In the beginning, I’m going through all the submissions, seeing if we have previous submitters, logging their subscriptions to our journal, etc. After the editors narrow down their selections, I do a lot more with the physical stories in InDesign and editing them according to what the fiction and poetry editors have decided. There’s a lot of back-and-forth with the authors.

EF: The stories of yours I’ve had the opportunity to read evoke setting in powerful ways, conjuring issues of class in rural American towns through things like language and image. Sometimes, just a character’s affect seems to enrich your settings. Is there a particular interplay between place and character that you’re conscious of trying to capture when you write? Is that sensibility something you look for in the poetry or fiction you help select for the GR?

EM: Much of my identity is embedded in the area of Virginia that I grew up in and is certainly at the forefront of my stories. I’m very interested in the effects of place on character, especially in settings where it seems stagnation has set in, where no one really leaves, or even knows how to anymore. I’ve noticed, as these stories come together in my thesis, that there’s always a sentimentality in the character for that place he or she is from. When I weigh in, I try not to favor a story that’s interested in those things just because I am, but I think there’s something to be said of stories in which the setting matters so much that it can be antagonistic in the narrative. In fact, in our upcoming issue there are a few stories where place really does play a big part in how the characters feel, and their resulting actions.

EF: Michael Parker [a fiction faculty member at UNCG] is fond of saying that the major divisions in this country aren’t regional but rural/urban. Do you think of your stories as investigating specifically regional concerns, or as speaking to a reality embedded in a larger rural/urban divide that might transcend the specificity of place?

EM: I hope my stories do surpass regional concerns. All of my pieces are positioned in a small area of the rural southeast because that’s where I grew up and that’s what I know. I try to make my stories feel lived in—give them an authenticity that I couldn’t necessarily obtain by writing about a different area with similar issues. I think, though, that many rural areas are similar in terms of education, political orientation, religion, and race, and that they generally lean pretty opposite of more urban areas. So, yeah, I think about Michael Parker’s statement a lot, and it’s a statement I had never considered before coming to this MFA program. I hope that when I write about rural class issues, it resonates with everyone, because everyone falls on one side or the other.

EF: Are there lessons you’ve learned working on the editorial side of things that have helped your own writing? Or vice-versa: writing lessons you’ve transferred to your editing work?

EM: Editorial work has helped me learn to take rejections a little more easily, because now I’ve seen the hundreds of entries we get each go-around while only having space for a handful of stories and poems. There’s also the different tiers of rejections, which is something I hadn’t been very familiar with in the past. The difference between form rejections, form rejections with an encouragement to submit again, and then the personalized rejections, where the editors often explain that they liked your story, but didn’t have room for it, but would love for you to resubmit…would’ve never thought to be excited over a rejection until now.

In terms of my own work, I think I’ve learned to not try to write what I think an editorial team will be interested in. If I begin to lose that personal edge, then that’s not helpful to me or the person reading my work, because it’s always about standing out from that pile of submissions. Even if a submission’s plot may need a little reconfiguring, I think the editors would much rather work with that than a clean story with a little less heat.

EF: Last question. There’s a sense somehow that we’re in a polarized cultural moment—a time when we’re both more aware of sexual and gender discrimination and racism in society at large (as well as in the literary community) and where misogynists and racist are more emboldened. What responsibility falls on a literary journal and its editors working and publishing in this milieu? 

We recently had author Ben Fountain come to the MFA program to visit, and he remarked how important it is for writers to get out, see the world, and come back to tell the truths of it. Writers are here to tell stories that hold us accountable. It’s the editors’ responsibility to let those voices be heard. Most journals’ processes, at their core, are about finding creative work that encapsulate the human condition, so often enough stories are commenting on past, present, or future social culture. I don’t speak for all literary journals by any means, but here at the GR we don’t wish to limit the subjects, styles, or voices we work with, and also do our best to select pieces that promote the journal’s vision, which is to publish the best stuff we get, period.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli